Omicron Threat..How Serious?
India Today|December 13, 2021
COVID-19
Amarnath K. Menon & M.G. Arun

Barely a fortnight after news broke of a new Covid-19 ‘variant of concern’—codenamed ‘Omicron’ and first reported to the WHO (World Health Organization) by South Africa on November 24—and even before a single case has been reported in the country, India is scrambling to implement measures to contain what some say is the most contagious variant yet. At the national level, these include travel advisories and stricter testing and quarantine guidelines for travellers, while several states have imposed additional restrictions of their own.

At the time of writing, there were few certainties about the Omicron variant. Virologists say they hope to have a better understanding of the danger posed by this strain by mid-December, including how quickly it spreads, the expected severity of symptoms and how effective existing vaccines are against it. However, the fact that such a variant has emerged appears to confirm earlier warnings that Covid-19, like swine flu, could become an endemic disease, with regular mutations and cyclic spikes in case numbers in vulnerable areas.

The emergence of the Omicron variant has also sparked off debate about whether a third dose of Covid-19 vaccines should be administered in India, even though half the eligible adult population is yet to receive a second dose— a fact that highlights the country’s slow vaccine rollout. The US and the UK have approved booster doses for all adults, to be administered six months after the second dose. (However, in the UK, this is limited to those above the age of 40 or with medical conditions that suppress natural immunity.) “The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation [will issue] a comprehensive policy on booster doses in the next two weeks,” says Dr N.K. Arora, chairman of the national Covid-19 task force. “It will [address] who requires [a booster dose of the] vaccine, when and how.” What is equally important is the development of new vaccines if the Omicron variant proves capable of evading the protection offered by those currently available and in use.

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